Earl Hamilton

Earl “Big Earl” Hamilton

Earl Riley “Big Earl” Hamilton


Earl Riley “Big Earl” Hamilton
53 YOA
Big Earl’s Goldmine
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
September 29, 1996


Case summary by Aaron Brilbeck and Jody Ewing

Big Earl Hamilton was already considered somewhat legendary before the very thing that brought him fame brought him down with a single bullet to the head.

In 1994, “Big Earl’s Goldmine” — a strip club business on the outskirts of Des Moines in Polk County, Iowa that Hamilton owned and operated — became the county’s first topless and bottomless “juice bar” — a club which serves no alcohol and therefore is beyond the regulation of state liquor authorities.

Big Earl’s Goldmine featured nude dancers, and though the bar could sell nothing stronger than soft drinks, customers were allowed to bring in their own alcohol if they so chose.

The business thrived, but Big Earl’s luck was about to change.

Book cover
Dr. Kevlin’s 2007 book profiles more than 700 strip club related homicides, including that of “Big Earl” Hamilton.

As he closed up at approximately 3 a.m. on Sunday, September 29, 1996, an unknown assailant shot Big Earl, 53, in the head outside the club.

Hamilton was flown to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Officials ruled out robbery as a motive, and speculation had it that Big Earl might have been slain over a dispute that had arisen over his firing of several nude dancers.

Four female exotic dancers from the Milwaukee area were sought by authorities for questioning about a month after Hamilton’s death.

“We just want to question them about their whereabouts and activities,” Polk County sheriff’s detective Dennis Marshall said in an October 22, 1996 telephone interview with the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Marshall acknowledged the investigation had shifted toward Milwaukee, though no one was ever charged in Hamilton’s slaying.

Three years later, the club – then operated by Hamilton’s son – burned down on March 9, 1999 in what appeared to be an arson fire set for personal reasons by a family acquaintance.

Big Earl's logoCrews from seven cities were called in to fight the early Tuesday morning blaze, which Saylor Township Assistant Fire Chief John Norris said took more than six hours to battle.

“The building is a complete loss,” Norris told the Associated Press on Thursday, March 11, adding that a preliminary investigation showed no signs of suspicious activity.

The case for arson was never proven and the suspect pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to perform “100 hours of community service in fire prevention.”

In April 2007, Dr. T.A. Kevlin – who holds advanced degrees in history and criminology – cited “Big Earl’s” murder in his book “Headless Man In Topless Bar: Studies of 725 cases of strip club related criminal homicides.”

The book’s individual chapters covered the murders of dancers, customers, bouncers, employees and managers, and other organized crime related killings in the strip club business.

Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unsolved 1996 murder of “Big Earl” Hamilton. August 5, 2010

About Earl Hamilton
earl-hamilton-gravestoneCourtesy photo Katie Lou, findagrave.com
Earl “Big Earl” Hamilton is buried at the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Earl Riley Hamilton was born June 15, 1943. His case remains unsolved today, and the family has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in his case.

Earl was buried at the Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Information Needed

If you have any information you think might help solve this case, please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at (515) 286-3814.



Copyright © 2018 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


26 Responses to Earl Hamilton

  1. Breanna says:

    We would love peace of mind. I am Big Earl’s Granddaughter, I am glad to see this is still posted due to the fact that his spirit does live on within each and every one of his family members. May he rest in paradise, and his strength be within everyone in the ongoing generations of our family.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Breanna, and please accept our condolences on your grandfather’s untimely death. “Big Earl” sounded like a “larger than life” character, and I’m sure your family will still be sharing wonderful memories about him in generations to come. If you (or any other family members) have any favorite stories or photos you’d like included on his page, please feel free to e-mail them to me and I’ll get them posted right away. Thanks again, and all the very best to you and your family.

    • Malissa Mcgregor says:

      Breanna i will keep posting it every so often because yaare like family to me

  2. mhiyu thomas says:

    This is Mhiyu Thomas and I think me and my family got the short end of the stick when it comes to my father’s assassination. We would like more answers. We feel like the police are not doing their jobs especially when it comes to my father. We ask for justice.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Thanks for writing, Mhiyu, and please accept my condolences on your father’s unsolved murder. I know it doesn’t get much easier over time, especially when there are no answers and there’s been no resolution. Many people — including police officers and other investigators — share your frustration insofar as wanting to allocate more time to cold cases. It isn’t that they don’t care, but rather budget cuts that force already overworked officers to devote what time they do have to new cases coming in every day.

      They may not have the cold case files open on their desk, but they *do* follow up on every lead or tip that comes in. I’ve had other family members state they don’t think police care as much about solving their loved one’s murder due to the victim’s line of work or past arrests or whatever, but based on what we’ve been told, priorities are based not on the victim’s race, social status or line of work, but rather what cases have the best chance of being solved via DNA or other types of evidence.

      You’re already on the right track, Mhiyu; make sure people never forget the case is still open. The years go by much faster for people who read about crimes in the paper than they do for families left behind still waiting for answers and justice. Take care, and thank you again for writing.

  3. Brandy says:

    Justice has not been served for my grandfathers death, and our family will never be able to rest comfortably until we know who did this to our family… Please keep searching For the murderer

  4. Breanna says:

    I go see him at the cemetery often, it breaks my heart to know ill never hear from him exactly what happened. My granfather was a man known and missed by many. Sad story that they still haven’t figured out who it was. I have never sat and wondered about something as much as i sit and think about him some days and how our family would be much different if he was alive. We wont be at ease until it’s solved. For many the tension from the tragedy still remains as well as the sensitivity about this certain subject, all it will take is for one person to speak up and say” I know something,” anything….
    May he rest in peace, our beloved grandfather,father,friend and so much more..~

  5. Theresa says:

    I assume they started with applications, work schedules and pay stubs, but none of that is mentioned. After the fire I suspect there is no information left.

  6. Breanna says:

    As I mentioned once before there isn’t much evidence or at least enough to arise any reasonable suspicion . We are still awaiting an answer and for justice to be served , a reward still remains. Many of our family members are still awaiting a call an email a knock at the door letting us know an arrest has been made and someone came forward. Until then the legacy lives on. May he rest in peace.

  7. leroy says:

    just visited big earls yesterday, I left it is the biggest hole in the ground I ever seen! Will never go back. The dancer electra is a dumb fuckin bitch.

    • Andrea Olmanson says:

      Leroy, taste your words before you speak them. Feel them before you type them and hit that send button. Shame on you for further shaming a stripper. Do you not know that the vast, vast majority of exotic “dancers” were sexually abused and victimized as children? For shame, writing such a comment. Now go crawl back under that rock from which you came, and don’t come back.

  8. Amy says:

    I knew big earl and his sons, earl jr and dovey ( Melvin) for many years…..big earl got knocked off out of greed. Those of us that were around before it happened know ….
    Sad that his killer is getting coverage

  9. I met Big Earl in 1981 when I lived in Des Moines when he had his record shop. He drove that car with those big bug eyed headlights. He was an amazing person and friend. He is very much loved and missed by many. Condolences to his family.

  10. Dsm is to small to not know who did it. Some body knows. I remember that day clear as a bell and I’m not even a stripper. Big story back then

  11. Someone knows something, I remember this story!

  12. Mike Nutting says:

    I always heard he owed money to some people out of Chicago & they came to collect..

  13. Amy Johnson says:

    Yes, I do. Long dark hair, I believe.

  14. I Love You All, And I’ ll Feel Your Pain In My Heart Forever! Love You All, Always!

  15. Dsm lady says:

    Is there still a reward for info leading to the arrest of big Earl’s killer?

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